Catching Up With ... Aldo Guidolin

Aldo Guidolin and his wife, Phyllis, are pictured at an event last year.
Aldo Guidolin and his wife, Phyllis, are pictured at an event last year. (Baltimore Sun)

He sits quietly in a wheelchair at a long-term care facility in his native Guelph, Ontario. Aldo Guidolin doesn't talk — multiple strokes have robbed him of his speech — but his brown eyes follow ice hockey games on TV and the movements of those who call on the aging defenseman.

At 80, life is a struggle for Guidolin, whose brawling 17-year career included four seasons with the New York Rangers and six as a popular player and coach with the Baltimore Clippers of the American Hockey League. Fans send cards seeking autographs, unaware that, after six debilitating strokes, Guidolin has lost the use of his right hand.

His wife, Phyllis, 79, visits almost daily, wheeling him around, helping with meals and doting over her spouse of 59 years.

"Aldo always smiles when I come in," she said. "I don't know if he knows that I'm his wife, but he might understand that I'm someone who comes to see him all the time."

Fifty-one years ago, Guidolin was a mainstay on a fledgling Clippers team that christened the Civic Center (now First Mariner Arena) on Oct. 23, 1962. Before 7,760 jubilant fans, Baltimore defeated the Providence Reds, 5-4. That night, a 30-foot slap shot by Guidolin found the net.

His spirited play livened the Clippers, excited the crowds and earned him untold trips to the penalty box. By the time he retired here in 1969, Guidolin had spent 715 minutes in the bin for Baltimore. Sometimes he even fought while sitting in the corner.

He shrugged off those penalties, telling a Sun reporter that "I just got caught more than the other guys."

Guidolin saw more than his share of melees, which left him with a broken wrist and leg, plus several thumbs and toes. His daughter, Barbara Guidolin, remembers her father coming home from games "with thread in his face, from stitches, or with a broken finger or two."

Though bruised and beaten, he never complained, she said.

"Fans seemed to relish [the fisticuffs]," Phyllis Guidolin said. "We'd be sitting in the stands and friends would say, 'Oh, Phyllis, Aldo is in a fight!'

"I'd say, 'Let him fight.' I never stood up to watch it. What's remarkable is that Aldo still has most of his teeth. I'll kid him that it's because he always kept his mouth shut while on the ice."

Off the ice, Guidolin's persona changed.

"In all these years, he has never said a harsh word to me," his wife said. "And he has never complained about his illness. After the third stroke, he could still speak, so I asked him about it. He said, 'It's something that I've been given, and I must accept it.'

"Aldo has faith."

He has lived the life he wanted, she said: "He told me that, at 10, he was asked to write a composition on what he wanted to be when he grew up. Aldo wrote, 'One day I'm going to play in the NHL.'

"When his teacher told him that one sentence didn't make a composition, he looked at her and said, 'That's all I've got to say.' "

Guidolin played for New York from 1952 through 1956, then spent his last 13 years in the AHL. For 2 1/2 years, Guidolin served as the Clippers' player-coach, twice making the playoffs as pilot but never winning the Calder Cup.

"He loved Baltimore," Barbara Guidolin said. "I'd go to games on Saturday nights, after which we and the players all went to a crab house where they threw pots of steamed crabs on the tables and we all dived in."

In retirement, Guidolin served as a scout for the Atlanta Flames, then as director of player personnel for the now-defunct Colorado Rockies hockey team. At 58, tired of traveling, he settled in his old hometown.

"I always wanted to be a doctor," Guidolin told his wife.

"You're too old for that," she said.

"Okay then," he said. "I'll sell real estate."

That's what he did until 2008, when he suffered the first stroke. As his health declined, Phyllis Guidolin questioned hockey's role in it.

"There were games where Aldo hit the boards and got knocked out — and then played the next day," she said. "I often wonder if the hockey had anything to do with this."

There's no doubt that the game took its toll on her dad, said Barbara Guidolin, chief nursing executive at Georgian Bay General Hospital in Midland, Ontario.

"Every additional stroke has taken more of his independence away," she said. "But he has my mom, and they were made for each other."

At Riverside Glen, where Guidolin resides, the walls of Room 419 are peppered with photographs of his old teams. From time to time, his wife gets calls from former players like Noel Price, of the Clippers, and Andy Bathgate, of the Rangers.

"When anyone comes by and says hi, Aldo looks at them," she said. "I've often thought, what long days these must be for him, but people say that maybe he no longer recognizes time.

"I do know that he's a great guy and that I've had a wonderful life with Aldo. On our first date [in 1951] he took me to see 'Gone With The Wind,' then out for a soda. When I got home I said, 'Mum, I'm going to marry that man — he's for me.'

Nothing has changed, she said:

"If I had to do it again, I'd do it tomorrow."

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